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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Turkey's Stance on Khashoggi Killing Contrasts With Criticism Over Media Rights

By Dorian Jones December 07, 2018

Turkey appears to be increasing pressure on Saudi Arabia over the death of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Riyadh's Istanbul consulate.

Turkish prosecutors have issued indictments for two Saudis allegedly involved in the killing, while Turkey's spy chief, Hakan Fidan, reportedly briefed senior American senators and CIA chief Gina Haspel in a closed-door meeting Thursday on Khashoggi's killing. According to the reports, the U.S. lawmakers initiated the meeting.

"They (Ankara) think, they can still impress some senators and put some pressure on the (U.S.) administration," said Turkish political scientist Cengiz Aktar. "But as long as the American administration chooses not to touch MBS (Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman), the issue is closed, and (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan will be the loser in the mid- and long run as Saudi Arabia is now bitterly opposed to the Turkish regime."

U.S. President Donald Trump has said the United States will stand by Saudi Arabia even though he acknowledged Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have known about the Saudi operation.

Ankara is campaigning to keep the Khashoggi killing on the international agenda through a slow but steady drip of information disseminated to the world's media.

On Thursday, Turkish newspapers published images purported to be of Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief at the consulate, alleging he was a crucial member in the plot. The journalist had gone to the consulate to collect documents so he could marry his fiancee. Khashoggi, who wrote columns for The Washington Post, was killed after entering the building in early October.

This past week, Istanbul prosecutors indicted Saudi deputy spy chief Ahmed al-Asiri and Saudi al-Qahtani, both former aides to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in connection with Khashoggi's killing.

The indictments may be largely symbolic since Riyadh has refused to extradite anyone allegedly involved in the killing, maintaining that the suspects will face justice in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government has said rogue agents are responsible for Khashoggi's death.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters at a recent NATO meeting in Brussels his government will not hesitate to seek an international route to achieve justice if its current efforts fail.

Analysts point out Ankara's stance on Khashoggi has diverted international attention over Erdogan's treatment of domestic journalists.

"Erdogan tried hard to make a new image with his stance over this murder," said Aktar, who now works with the University of Athens in Greece.

Yet on Friday, the Vienna-based press watchdog, International Press Institute, strongly condemned Turkey's media freedom record.

"Journalism in Turkey is clearly in crisis, and this is clearly a crisis for Turkey itself," said IPI executive member Sandy Bremner at an Istanbul press conference. Bremner went on to say journalists should not be regarded as enemies of the state because they ask difficult questions of the government and the rich and powerful. "We have seen absolutely continuing evidence of the absolute targeting of journalists, just for doing their jobs," added Bremner.

Bremner is part of a delegation that held talks this week with the Turkish government and journalist organizations. The IPI said 162 journalists are in jail, 88 of whom are in pre-trial detention. Of those detentions, 132 occurred after the 2016 failed coup against Erdogan, which led the Turkish leader to impose emergency rule.

The IPI says since then, journalists have been sentenced to a total of 429 years behind bars, including five life sentences. Seventy newspapers and 41 TV and radio stations have also been shuttered. The government maintains no journalist has been jailed for his or her reporting. Authorities have defended imposing emergency rule as necessary on the grounds that those responsible for the failed coup still pose a threat to democracy.

However, Barbara Trionfi, the IPI's executive director, said one of the most worrying findings of her visit to Turkey was that even with the end of emergency rule this year, there was little sign of improvement.

"The fact is the situation we have in Turkey today is that the restrictions on journalists' ability to operate are becoming the normality," said Trionfi. "It's not the outcome of a situation that is exceptional, but it is becoming normalized both in legal terms by turning emergency decrees into laws, and because of economic and political reasons that do not allow the existence of alternative voices."

Trionfi also underscored they only met with senior Turkish civil servants, in contrast to previous visits when they met with government ministers and Erdogan.

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